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HAMMOND (AP) - A Baptist minister whose church has been linked with

instances of child abuse by clergy says he no longer can hug young members of

his congregation in public because it will be used against him.

The Rev. Jack Hyles wept Sunday in church as he asked children to refrain

from hugging him because the action had been taken out of context by a Detroit

television station.

"Our enemies got a copy of our video and have pulled a section out for

telecast that shows me hugging a little girl at the bottom of the step," Hyles

told the congregation at First Baptist Church.

"They've pulled it out for telecast as proof that we prey on children and

are a place that sends out child molesters.

"Because of that, I'm going to have to ask the children to shake my hand.

I'm sorry about that. I really am."

WJBK-TV in Detroit has reported that Hyles, who pastors one of the largest

fundamentalist Baptist churches in the nation, is linked to several clergy

across the country implicated in child molesting cases. Michigan State Police

allege two former Hammond church members molested children of an Ann Arbor,

Mich., Baptist church during a Bible retreat here last summer. The charges

against one of the two were dismissed because the victims were too young to

testify.

Hammond police also recently began an investigation into First Baptist after

deacon A.V. Ballenger was convicted by a Lake Superior Court jury of fondling a

9-year-old girl during Sunday school in 1991. The probe was called off Friday

after Baptist congregations and pastors across the nation blitzed the media

with calls.

During Sunday's service, Hyles told the applauding congregation that WJBK's

news anchorman had been fired and 12 sponsors had dropped the evening news

because of its investigative series.

However, Mort Meisner, news director for WJBK, said neither of those

statements were true.

"There's Mr. Hyles again trying to manipulate his congregation as he has

done so successfully during the years he's been doing this, and it's just

false," said Meisner. "Here's a case that when the facts burn you, you try to

manipulate and save as much grace as you can.

"I understand he has a large following, so I'll go one step further. I think

Mr. Hyles has probably saved the lives of a lot of people, because people need

something to believe in. And I think he's helped a lot of people, but

conversely, I think he's also hurt a lot of people," Meisner said.

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